DeWine wants to fund more police in schools. Advocates want to use the money for more counselors
ACLU of Ohio, Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, Policy Matters Ohio, Juvenile Justice Coalition, and Ohio Poverty Law Center held a virtual press conference Monday to recommend changes to Gov. DeWine's proposed plan for $338 million in funding to allow more schools to hire school resource officers.
Earlier this year in his State of the State address, DeWine shared details of his proposed budget plan which included offering all public and private schools funding to hire a school resource officer, or SRO.
The governor's plan intends to expand the state's effort to make schools safer and improve Ohio schools' emergency response plans, but some say adding more police won't benefit every district.
Alison Paxson, a senior policy associate from Children's Defense Fund-Ohio says DeWine's suggested funding should be more flexible, and give schools the option to add a counselor and mental health specialist instead of putting a police officer in the building.
"While of course, some districts may determine that they want to use this funding for school police, others may not," Paxson said. "These districts should not have to leave this money on the table. Especially, if given more flexibility, these dollars could support more preventative approaches to school safety that would be better suited for the needs of their students and to their communities as a whole."
Paxson says counselors are a key factor in the prevention of school violence and can improve student attendance and achievement.
A spokesperson from DeWine's office said after Monday's press conference that the governor's SRO proposal was in response to groups who spoke out in opposition to arming teachers in schools. These groups preferred the presence of an officer, but not every school could afford it.
Additionally, DeWine's office says the state provides wraparound support for local schools to hire additional counselors or mental health professionals.
The potential impact on 'everyday issues'
Still, others speaking out against the proposed plan say more police officers may worsen the environment in schools for students of color, citing a national study that shows Black students are 3.5 times more likely to face exclusionary discipline than white students.
ACLU Ohio's data from their research into policing at Cincinnati Public Schools points out that Black students account for 89% of police referrals despite making up 63% of the student population and are five times more likely to face exclusionary discipline than white students.
While some schools may want a police presence in their buildings, Juvenile Justice Coalition Executive Director TaKasha Smith says those officers need to have the proper training before entering a school environment.
For Smith, schools may see the need for a police officer in case of a serious emergency, but might not be aware of how an officer could potentially escalate a situation without adequate training in crisis intervention, suicide prevention and communicating with someone with a mental disorder whose behavior may be perceived as "unruly."
"They're asking for someone who's going to be there to be prepared and ready to deal with catastrophic issues as they come up. What they're not thinking about is the everyday situations that our children face and the everyday consequences of interacting for minor disciplinary issues," Smith said.
The proposed changes came on the same day three children and three adults were killed in a shooting at a private religious school in Nashville. The shooter, who police said was a 28-year-old Nashville woman, was shot dead by two officers.
The proposed budget was introduced in the House in mid-February and any changes made to the plan must be worked out by the end of June.